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Farah vs. Bolt: A Match Race Made in Heaven

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The running world has been buzzing of late with news that Britain's Mo Farah challenged Usain Bolt to a race for charity -- and that to the surprise of many, Bolt picked up the gauntlet.

Farah, a Nike (NKE - Get Report)-sponsored distance runner, was one of the big stories of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. He became the seventh man in Olympic history to win both the men's 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters and did so in front of an adoring home crowd that included members of the British royal family and at least three very excited BBC commentators.

Jamaican sprinter Bolt, the world's fastest man and favorite son of Puma, also took multiple gold medals in London. Bolt won the men's 100 meters and 200 meters and anchored Jamaica's winning 4x100-meter relay team. He'd won the same three races in Beijing four years earlier as well.

This past week Farah and Bolt continued to dominate the competition at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow. Bolt even managed to elevate his near-mythic stature by winning the men's 100 meters as lightning blazed across the sky, the kind of dramatic exclamation point of which lesser mortals can only dream. Now that Moscow's over, fans can focus on the intriguing prospect of a match race between the two superstars.

Should the contest happen -- and no date or venue has been announced -- the event will likely be 600 meters, an intermediate distance outside both athletes' sweet spots.

So who would win?

Perhaps surprisingly, most experts say the odds are with Farah. Bolt may be the fastest man on the planet but Farah's no tortoise, and it's much harder for Bolt to move up in distance than it is for Farah to move down. It's mostly about physiology.

As Ross Tucker from The Science of Sport explains, Bolt primarily uses oxygen-independent (anaerobic) energy systems to power his six-foot-five frame. In a 200-meter race, for example, male sprinters like Bolt will typically generate 70% of their energy needs from anaerobic systems. These systems enable sprinters to go incredibly fast over short distances; beyond that, the accumulation of metabolic by-products inhibits muscle contraction and they have to slow down.
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